Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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SFF Alternatives to Traditional Education

Here’s a post at tor.com: 6 SFF Alternatives to Traditional Education.

This is kind of a neat idea for a post, but what makes it is the reading list. The post is by Stubby the Rocket, who will briefly discuss the alternative of “apprenticeship,” for example, and then add a list of five to ten SFF novels in which apprenticeships play an important role in education. Very nice! Let me see what categories of nontraditional education Stubby the Rocket picks out of the SFF literary universe …

Transformation! Hah! That is one very alternative means of education. Once and Future King — not a great favorite of mine, actually — but yes, I remember Merlin turning Wat into a falcon and things like that. Not entirely sure what the kid was supposed to learn from that, now that I think about it.

Would the Majipoor Chronicles by Silverberg count, where you remember or experience someone else’s life without actually being transformed?

Technology. That’s one I thought of right away.  One SF world missing from the reading list — the Touchstone Trilogy. Of course there must be a hundred others, that’s just the one I thought of with regard to the use of tech in learning.

I’m sure I saw a casual reference to viral learning in some SF book or other. That’s a different kind of tech-based learning. Probably it’s been used now and then. Anybody remember a specific instance? 

Next, Music and Songs. Okay, that seems like a pretty limited route to education to me. But, sure, as a way of remembering historical events and things like that, sure. There are probably better examples of music and songs actually being super-important as educational tools, rather than super-important in themselves, but I can’t think of any right off-hand.

Apprenticeship. Sure, that’s actually more traditional than, uh, traditional education. Very easy thing to put into a fantasy world.

Taking a Gap Year. Hah, didn’t see that category coming. Stubby the Rocket says:

Most epic quests have a degree of learning-via-travel: go forth, save the world, pick up a few fighting tips and camping skills on the way! But some feel a bit more like legit gap years than others. Foremost among these? Westley’s transformation into the Dread Pirate Roberts. Our boy had gone into the world to seek his fortune, but what he got was something else: an education. And let’s be honest, his fencing skills (and cool mask) were probably way more interesting to Buttercup than plain ol’ money would’ve been.

Gotta admit, the cool mask makes a nice adjunct to a pile of money.

And the last one is pretty much a component of traditional education:

Book Learnin’.

While other SFF students apprentice themselves out, travel the world, or transform into creatures great and small in their quest for a good education, there are other characters who simply go to the library.

Well, I must admit, that’d be more my speed in most fantasy worlds. Way better than going forth to save the world, that’s for sure.

My favorite comment on this post:

Best way to learn is via montage, every movie I saw in the 80s confirms that for me.

Hah, very true! Remember when Buffy made that snide comment about montages in the musical episode, and then sure enough, a montage ensued? Great episode.

Any other educational alternative occur to you?

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2 Comments SFF Alternatives to Traditional Education

  1. Mary Catelli

    Every time I’m asked what my favorite fictional library is, I have to say that in Robin McKinley’s Beauty because none of the rest are geared toward pleasure reading.

  2. Rachel

    Surely more than just that one library is meant for pleasure reading? Now I will have to pay close attention…

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